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Sunday, June 05, 2005

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: At its depths, Watergate was a Nixonian tragedy

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: At its depths, Watergate was a Nixonian tragedyAt its depths, Watergate
was a Nixonian tragedy

In Larry Cohen's 1977 film "The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover," it was suggested that the architect behind the Watergate granulation of Richard Nixon's presidency was Clyde Tolson, Hoover's closest friend and confidant. Hoover was never married and his friendship with Tolson created the kinds of rumors that one expects a man of Hoover's power and ruthlessness would draw. So the film took the position that Tolson was getting revenge for his special friend and that all of the dirt amassed by Hoover would smother Nixon.

Now we know that, though it might have been a good guess, the thesis of the film was incorrect, It was right, however, in assuming that "Deep Throat" was someone inside the FBI. As it turns out, that someone was second in command and thought it absolutely important that he not run deep and silent on what the Nixon White House had put into practice, which appeared to be the highest level of vindictive corruption that had ever come through Washington.

Nixon had come up through the era of red-baiting that followed World War II and lasted into the mid '50s. The bullhorn of the moment was Sen. Joe McCarthy, who used the hysterically wielded tarbrush of Communist association to destroy careers in and out of politics. Nixon was vice president at the time and after serving two terms, would have been elected President in 1960 if Chicago's Mayor Daley had not helped John Kennedy steal the election.

That, and other career disappointments, planted enough resentment in Nixon to grow a poison bush in his soul. It came to flower when he took office in 1968 and proceeded to get America out of Vietnam, open relations with China, give American Indians the first less-than-raw deal, put affirmative action in place and sell the Republican Party out to Southern rednecks, which begat "republicrats."

When I first went to Europe in 1977, Europeans were still in shock that a man of Nixon's power and popularity had been brought down, essentially, by two reporters from The Washington Post, Carl Bernstein and Robert Woodward. There was no parallel in European history and there was surely no parallel in the Communist world, where nothing like a free press existed (the ongoing revolution had to be protected from lies and distortion). The bloodless removal of Richard Nixon was an American original in the history of massive political power. It revealed the depth of our system to us and to the world.

What I value most about Watergate and the fall of Richard Nixon is the final address the disgraced former President made to the White House staff before walking to a waiting helicopter and whirling away into the history of darkness. Nixon took on a tragic grandeur then because of his insight into the human soul and how hatred, like a spiritual cancer, can devour its host. It was almost Shakespearean in its simple eloquence.

On Aug. 9, 1974, near the end of his address, Richard Milhous Nixon said, "Always give your best, never get discouraged, never be petty; always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don't win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself."

Originally published on June 2, 2005

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